The Torture Place

He was a godless communist journalist in Afghanistan -- so they took his eye, cut his ear and splashed acid all over his body. Now he is safe in St. Louis. But still burning.

They've had a strained three months, trying to feel their way into safety in a new culture and be honest about their experiences without hurting devout Muslims who would not dream of swirling acid onto pagan flesh. Barikzy's wife is terrified of reprisals against their family; her thin, elegant face lined with pain and fear, she brings bread and tea but refuses to speak for the article. Barikzy is terrified, too, yet speaking is the only healing he can fathom.

From Afghanistan's tortuous history comes a parable: "As long as the root touches the water, there is hope." Barikzy insists he has no hope. "I believe that nobody can cure me, heal me. All I know is, I need to be in a kind of front against Islamic terrorism and torture." The week he arrived, he begged the International Institute to arrange a meeting with a U.S. politician -- "not from the White Palace but a small one. I have lots of ideas about terrorism and torture that would be helpful for the U.S. government."

That mission, spliced by physical pain, nightmares and burning waking memories, has replaced virtually everything else. "I had a strong love for my family before I got tortured," he says. "Right now I have interest in them; I can't say love. The torture took the place of love in my mind."

Abhaseen Barikzy wears dark glasses even indoors, shielding his 2-year-old daughter, Silsila, from his wounds
Jennifer Silverberg
Abhaseen Barikzy wears dark glasses even indoors, shielding his 2-year-old daughter, Silsila, from his wounds

Joy also vanished. "I was very happy as a young man, in the hope that our party would gain power in Afghanistan, and I had a great time with my family and friends, my thoughts and beliefs, my work. When I came here, disappointment took hope's place in my heart. There is a parable: 'The voice of a drum is interesting from a distance.' This is my parable for America. From a distance, the name of America is a glory. People think when they arrive they will suffer no more. But I see many other difficulties here. It is like honey in a bottle, and the bottle is very tight, and we cannot open it."

He occupies his days caring for his family, making the obligatory clinic visits, worrying about family back in Afghanistan and writing a book, The Role of Fundamentalism in Terrorism. He is trying to make sense of the atrocities, fit them into his mind's compartments so they do not dance in front of his eyes forever, like macabre corpses there's no place to bury. But before he can put the memories away, he needs some sense of justice.

"It is not enough," he says abruptly, "if people read this and say, 'Oh, sorry.'"

For more information, see The Official Story

Related Links:
Taliban's own official site: Human-rights reports (Amnesty International site):
Counterterrorism data (U.S. State Department site):

Transcripts from the July 20 Senate subcommittee hearing available through the Federal Document Clearing House.

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